Ready for AI microchips?
When Elon Musk speaks, people listen. There’s even a site dedicated to capturing his most outrageous comments. This time, instead of cars or spaceships, it’s implanting AI microchips into the human brain. Sound farfetched? Maybe. Will he be able to pull it off? Most likely, with a few caveats.
Up until now, there hasn’t been much info about Elon’s super secretive company, Neuralink, founded in 2017. That all changed when they released a research paper in July, followed by a typical Elon-style press conference. (You can both view the Livestream and read the journal here).
Is this Real Science?
Neuralink claims to have created an AI microchip that can be implanted into the human brain. The device would allow a wired connection to an array of electronic devices. While it sounds like sci-fi, successful brain implants have been in use for over a decade. The goal of Neuralink is to create a smarter, faster, and less invasive solution.
According to the research, Scientists will be able to insert “flexible electrode ‘threads” that are thinner than a strand of human hair. “Each thread can be individually inserted into the brain with micron precision for avoidance of surface vasculature and targeting specific brain regions.” The chip only requires an incision of 8 millimeters and no stitches. A patient would be able to go home the same day they had the procedure. Elon put his spin on it during the Livestream, stating, “won’t feel a thing.” That the procedure will be as simple and painless as Lasik eye surgery. Though the company admits the first human trials, slated to start in 2020, won’t be as simple or painless.
Practical Medical Uses
The Tesla CEO has been warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence for years. In 2017, he declared that “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” So what exactly is he trying to achieve with implanting chips into human brains? Superhuman intelligence? Future resistance against robot overlords?
Nothing as fantastical as that, least for now. Instead, Neurolink scientists are focused on only using the device to treat medical conditions. For someone with a spinal injury, implanting a small electrode could be life-changing. A person with paralysis would be able to text on a cellphone using only their mind. Melding AI and the human brain has significant implications for improving the quality of life for millions of people.
The Magical Elon Twist
It wouldn’t be an Elon Musk venture without some over the top aspirations. He is hoping that the research will yield a way to create “superhuman intelligence.” Musk envisions a future where anyone can elect to get chipped. People would be able to blend their mind and technology seamlessly. Elon’s longterm goal is to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
However, that will have to wait. The New York Times is quick to point out how far the company has to go before considering commercial usage. “The company claims the system will eventually be capable of reading and writing vast amounts of information. But as with many of Mr. Musk’s other ventures, like spaceships or futuristic tunnels, one of the biggest challenges may be for his scientists to match his grand vision. “
For now, Neuralink and its team of 90 employees seem content to focus their $158 million in funding on medical advancements. In releasing the research, they hope to gain more support in the medical, AI, and academic circles. Max Hodak, president of Neuralink, explained to the NYT’s: “We want this burden of stealth mode off of us so that we can keep building and do things like normal people, such as publish papers.”
So while the future may include superhumans and AI microchips, don’t expect to be able to text with only your brainpower any time soon.